Councilmember Corey Johnson took Transition and Inauguration contributions from a hotel magnate who pled guilty yesterday to violations of federal campaign finance law.
Sant Singh Chatwal, who owns and/or manages a number of luxury Manhattan hotels, including Chelsea’s hip Dream Hotel, gave Corey Johnson’s TIE committee $2,500. Councilmember Johnson, who lives one block from the Dream, is the only Council candidate or member ever to receive a contribution from the billionaire. Bill de Blasio, however, accepted a contribution from a relative of Chatwal in his 2003 Council run.
Chatwal admitted in District Court to having solicited money from “straw donors” in order to circumvent federal limits on individual campaign contributions. According to the federal complaint, the hotelier “used his employees, business associates, and contractors who performed work on his hotels … to solicit campaign contributions on Chatwal’s behalf in support of various candidates for federal office and PACs, collect these contributions, and pay reimbursements for these contributions, in violation of the Election Act.” Chatwal faces a $1 million fine and a possible 25 years in prison.
As I reported in City & State last month, developers associated with the Dream Hotel (including Sant Chatwal) gave Corey Johnson $15,000 towards his transition expenses; the latest revelations beg the question of whether Sant Chatwal was perpetrating a similar scheme on the local level, inducing his associates to make contributions for which they were reimbursed.
Sant Chatwal was recorded by the government explaining the need to make large monetary contributions to politicians in order to capture their attention. "Without that nobody will even talk to you...That's the only way to buy them, get into the system."
I must note that there is no evidence that any of the beneficiaries of Chatwal’s machinations knew about his illegal efforts on their behalf, and one must assume the same ignorance on the part of Councilmember Johnson. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that during his campaign Corey Johnson assiduously steered clear of associations with real estate interests, only to accept large donations from that sector once he was elected.